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U.S. Army veteran Daryl Roy was motivated to co-found 3D Media with his wife, Megan, in 2016 so no one would have to experience the same devastation he endured when a tragic on-the-job accident stole the lives of two soldiers – including a close friend – and left hundreds injured. Since then, the Roys have remained committed to developing virtual and augmented reality training solutions that minimize risk for clients in the petrochemical industry.

Founded in the Roys’ home state of Louisiana, 3D Media grew quickly to serve industry giants such as ExxonMobil and LED FastStart. They first learned about The Corridor region through contract work with the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation. Orlando’s reputation as a global modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) epicenter piqued their interest. But it wasn’t until they were introduced to Carol Ann Dykes Logue, director of programs & operations for the Innovation Districts & Incubation Program at the University of Central Florida (UCF), that the idea of an expansion to Florida began to solidify.

Orlando is the epicenter of MS&T with one of the most innovative universities, plus companies with entire missions to push the bounds of what MS&T can do,” Roy said. “This ecosystem is incredibly valuable to bootstrap startups like us and it’s rare.”

According to Dykes Logue, 3D Media is just one of many startups that have contributed to a noticeable spike in companies seeking to land in The Corridor. “With business activity picking back up and the clusters we already have here in photonics, defense, space and life sciences, it’s all coming together for a real uptick in client interest and applications.”

In January, Forbes reported on a nationwide startup surge as the pandemic caused new business creation to double. This new wave of entrepreneurship has made its way to the Florida High Tech Corridor, demonstrated by a noticeable increase in entrepreneurial activity at all of the area’s university incubators – both from new and expanding startups like 3D Media seeking entry into new consumer or geographic market segments.

In Tampa, proof of this is the waiting list to join USF CONNECT’s Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, which is longer than ever. Entrepreneurs are hungry for lab space and eagerly awaiting the new Research Park building opening fall 2021, explained USF CONNECT program director, Shannon Pastizzo.

“Companies come to Tampa to be involved in the university’s cutting-edge research scene and to be in a place where they can live, work and play.”

In addition, the region’s talent – specifically, the availability of military veterans – is also recognized as a major incentive. Tampa-based provider of advanced wearable technology, Neuro20 Technologies, refers to Florida veterans as “a highly trained population of ethical, skilled, nose to the grindstone, experienced individuals with proven track records for handling pressure.” The founder, Dennis Schmitt, is a disabled Marine whose injuries stood in the way of the lifestyle he wanted with his family. With high hopes of discovering a non-opioid approach to pain management and rehabilitation, Schmitt came across Electrical Muscle Stimulation while living in Europe. After immersing himself in the industry and speaking with experts in the U.S., he decided to improve upon the science and bring a new product to market.

During the unveiling of Neuro20 Technologies at the 2020 Synapse Summit, Schmitt and his team were introduced to Dr. Shri Goyal of USF CONNECT. Within minutes of learning how USF has served as a catalyst for high tech development, they were hooked. Shortly after, they connected with Pastizzo and applied to the incubation program. When the pandemic hit, Neuro20 shifted its focus toward COVID-19 solutions and has since been working with USF to secure lab space for strategic partners to conduct preventative testing.

In Gator country, Florida native and CEO of Agriculture Intelligence Matt Donovan has discovered a “renewed environment with a fertile ground for talent.” A resident company in UF Innovate | The Hub, Agriculture Intelligence is a precision agriculture science company combining machine vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide cloud-based, precision data for specialty crops. It is the global license holder of the AGROVIEW smart agriculture platform, an invention of University of Florida (UF) Agriculture and Biological Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis, which couples cloud-based technology and unmanned aerial vehicles to save farmers time and money on crop inventory and management.

Attracted to the intersection of agricultural and artificial intelligence expertise at UF, Florida was an ideal location for Donovan’s team to launch the business. Living a short road trip away from the Kennedy Space Center is icing on the cake for the space enthusiast.

Agriculture Intelligence is one of 72 resident companies of UF Innovate | The Hub, where Director of Incubation Services Mark Long has been experiencing the same level of interest as his counterparts at UCF and USF. Both The Hub and world-renowned Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator are at 100% capacity and continuing to field inquiries.

In his 20-plus years of experience, this trend is one Long has seen before.

It’s not uncommon during times of economic recession to see an uptick in entrepreneurship. In fact, many people use difficult economic times to propel themselves into fulfilling dreams of starting their own companies, he explained. “It may seem counterintuitive, but when you’re unemployed, what do you have to lose?”

Startup activity growth is certainly a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Florida, where officials have set a goal to become the top state for startups by 2030. With world-class clusters such as MS&T and aerospace, and other fields emerging, as well as its globally recognized research universities and top-tier incubator programs, the Florida High Tech Corridor region is sure to benefit from this trend.

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